As much as Austin Carr has achieved on the basketball court, his friends say, he remains the same man he's always been since they knew him in college. So at a ceremony honoring him for his achievements in a stellar and record-setting college basketball career, it's no surprise he saved his best for the things that had been most important to him during his Notre Dame career.
His strongest words were for the education he received and has used so well throughout his life.
And his biggest smile was for the teammates who surprised him with their appearance that afternoon.
Carr celebrated his induction into the Men's College Basketball Hall of Fame with gratitude to Notre Dame for the educational experience that allowed him to become the first member of his family to graduate from college. It was an opportunity he took advantage of ... sometimes reluctantly.
"Notre Dame gave me the understanding of how important education is," he said. "Every day I wanted to sleep in, there was someone there waking me up and making me go to class. I was not a great student when I first went to Notre Dame, but I became a pretty good student by the time I graduated. [Irish head coach] Johnny Dee and [assistant coach] Gene Sullivan gave me the freedom to express myself, but they also gave me the discipline to go after my goals."
Not only did Carr use the opportunity given him, he did his best to share what he'd been given with those who needed it. His presenter and teammate, Collis Jones, talked about Dee's "Reach Up" program, where the Fighting Irish athletes went into the community to try and give the youth of South Bend role models to steer them away from lives of crime and drugs.
"The kids would flock around Austin," Jones said, "and after he put on one of his shooting clinics, it was very easy for them to listen to how great a Notre Dame education affected him. They would come [to his dorm room] in groups at all hours. He was always courteous to them, and he made them feel very special."
"My parents always told me if you have a gift a lot of other people don't have, that meant you always have to give back from what you've been given," Carr said. "Notre Dame taught me I had to not just focus on basketball, but also on the other parts of life. There's life after basketball, and I would do it again because it taught me to prepare for life after the game."
Even when making the inevitable references to his on-court achievement, people couldn't get away from Carr's quality work ethic and desire to help others achieve. "He was the first one at practice, he was the last one to leave," Jones said. "He practiced harder than anyone else. He helped me during the summer, where we'd play one-on-one for hours. He elevated my game to a different level. I thank him for that."
Helping his friends during and outside of games was no effort for Carr, who was surprised by the arrival of former teammates like John Tracy and Jack Meehan, along with a host of other ND friends, including athletic director Kevin White and assistant athletic director John Heisler. "Collis knew we were coming," Tracy said, "but Austin didn't. We were happy to do it. He's one of the best guys. He's a better guy than he is a basketball player, that's how good a guy he is."
"Introducing Austin was a humbling experience," Jones said. "It's a great feeling, and I'm certainly happy for him because he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I knew he was going to get here before I went to Notre Dame. In fact, being able to play with him is one of the reasons I went there."
Carr was grateful for their presence, citing the importance of 30 years of friendship with Jones and Meehan in his acceptance speech. "That friendship hasn't wavered once," he said. "We go way back to the days I had hair. I thank them for coming today, along with my other Notre Dame friends. It was quite a surprise ... a good surprise."